To the adopting mama who is about to meet her child for the first time,
The waiting is over. You are now counting weeks, or maybe even days, instead of months. The moment you have dreamed about, hoped for, prayed for, cried for, begged God for, is about to arrive. You will see your child, face to face, for the first time. You go from pure excitement to immense panic throughout your day. Your to-do list seems to keep growing even though you are in constant motion preparing for travel. You cannot wait to see your child and yet you wonder if you are actually ready and questioning if they are ready to meet you.
Mama, you are about to embark on your own metamorphosis. The road ahead will not be easy. You already know that in your head. But you are about to actually experience the knowing in your heart and soul. Your journey may not play out exactly as mine, but here are a few things from my mama’s heart to yours.
Relationships are built over time and thankfully love is not a feeling it is a choice. Keep choosing love, mama.
When you see your child for the first time your heart may leap with joy and immediate attachment. If that doesn’t happen, don’t panic. Relationships are built over time and thankfully love is not a feeling it is a choice. Keep choosing love, mama. Even when your emotions take you the other direction, choose love. Tell that child all day long that she is precious and loved.
Visually you may see a six year old boy, but your heart needs to see a newborn baby. You must go back. There is no other way forward. If you are still waiting to travel, add a book about how to care for a newborn. Repurpose it to try to recreate as much as possible from that season of life. The brain is an incredible organ and neural pathways can be recreated by constant repetition. Your child needs you to allow them to be a baby again.
He may not want you to touch him at all. Do not give up, keep trying. Connect through food by attempting to feed him. Connect through play, even if that just means parallel play for now. Make a goal all day long to make eye contact. And if he won’t look you in the eyes, try putting some stickers on your face. If he wants to go into a shell and cry, sit beside him.
She may not let you put her down. And I mean ever. The panic goes beyond separation anxiety into an all consuming fear. I promise it will not last forever but it may last for a long season—ours lasted a year. My biggest tip is to get a really great child carrier so you can still be mobile. Let your child choose when they are ready to be out of your arms, out of your sight, out of your presence. Don’t rush it.
Educate your family and friends before you travel about what to expect after you return home. Invite anyone to the airport who would like to see you and your new child. It is so chaotic and you will all be completely exhausted but this allows people to see you so you can then go cocoon. Your new child will likely be scared and completely overwhelmed. In the madness, don’t lose track of where they are. Hold them the entire time or if they are older, hold their hand and don’t let go. Let your loved ones know that this is THE time to see you and you are not sure when the next time will be. You will also want to ask them to not bring any gifts to the airport and to not touch your child without asking you for permission first. It is not perfect but we have found it is the best way to allow everyone to see you. While it can be crazy for your new child, it is definitely a welcome sight for your own heart and can give you the encouragement you need for the next leg of the journey. With our older child adoption, it took a long time before we could have visitors in our home. We started the process slowly by having people over for short periods of time and staying outdoors during their entire visit.
Assemble a tribe while you are waiting.
Assemble a tribe while you are waiting. You WILL need people to love you through this next year. Yes, I said “year.” However you communicate with people—text, email, social media—make a group for those whom you can send an SOS to at a moment’s notice. People will want to help so let them. Here are a few ideas:
- Financially: The costs do not go away once you have arrived home.
- Meals: One day shortly after arriving home with our daughter, it took me 2 hours to make six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Meals are such a blessing!
- Cleaning: If you want a clean house then arrange for some help because you will not be able to do that for quite some time.
- Other Kids: If you have other children already in your home then arrange for them to have fun outings. Our home became very crazy and loud. It was stressful, not just for me, but for my other children. They need breaks too.
- Love and Prayer: You need people who are going to really pray for you around the clock. This is a battle for a child’s heart and you need support. You also need people to call and leave a voice message with no expectation that you will call them back or the understanding that, if you do call them back, you will probably hang up on them without notice. You also need people to text you and send you cards, emails, messages to encourage you every day. Tell people to reach out to you but not to expect anything in return. It will be a long time before you have anything to give and friendships are going to be very one sided for awhile.
Give yourself time to just be a family. Wait to sign up for classes, activities, and therapies. If you have a child with acute medical needs, then you will have to make some doctor’s appointments immediately. For anything else, just wait. Really take time to become a student of your child. Give your child a chance to get to know you. I know you have been waiting for so long to be able to take your child to that world renowned specialist. And you will and you will be amazing at advocating for their needs. But for a moment in time just enjoy being together becoming a family.
Realize that you HAVE to take breaks or you will break yourself. Your entire life will change. You will not be able to do the things you used to do. Maybe for a season, maybe for longer, but you still need to find ways to put on your oxygen mask. If you run out of air, you will be totally useless to your child.
You are precious and you are loved, Mama. Be kind to yourself.
Some days are going to be horrible. But remember, this is a marathon not a sprint. It is okay to have bad days. It is okay to make mistakes and not get it right every time. It is also okay to ask for help. In fact, it is absolutely necessary. If you are struggling it doesn’t mean that your adoption was a mistake or that you are not the right mother for your child. Connect with mamas who have traveled your road before. Find therapists in your area who are specially trained to help children from trauma…and find one for yourself, too.
You are precious and you are loved, Mama. Be kind to yourself.
All my love,
A mama who has gone before you and is cheering you on